Cable scores with 'Damages,' 'Mad Men'

Main story | Reactions |
Nominees list: part I | Nominees list: part II

Although TV Academy voters cast the most ballots for the seven-part HBO presidential miniseries “John Adams,” this year’s Emmy campaign represented a major breakthrough for basic cable — rewarding several channels for their relatively recent commitment to original dramatic programming.

Two basic-cable frosh, AMC’s Golden Globe winner “Mad Men” and FX’s “Damages,” snagged noms for drama in the 60th annual Primetime Emmys announced Thursday. And in another first for basic-cable series, “Mad Men’s” 16 Emmy bids were the most among drama series.

“John Adams,” an expensive biography of the second president, garnered 23 nominations. The TV Academy clearly prefers costume drama, as it’s the third consecutive year that the most-lauded entry has been a period longform project, following “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and the TNT mini “Into the West.” (Another historical epic, “Roots,” still holds the single-year record with 37.)

Defending comedy champ “30 Rock” was the most-recognized series overall, with 17, breaking the nomination record for a comedy, just eclipsing the 16 earned by “The Larry Sanders Show” in 1997. The NBC show padded its total by securing seven of 11 slots in the guest-actor voting.

Several other basic-cable shows received key acting noms, including AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and TNT’s “Saving Grace.” Those new hours drew mentions for stars Bryan Cranston and Holly Hunter, respectively.

As usual, the Emmys offered an assortment of the familiar (a surplus of which has drawn criticism in the past), mixed this year with a healthy dollop of fresh blood — rather literally in the case of Showtime’s second-year serial-killer series “Dexter,” which also graces the drama roster.

In addition to “Mad Men,” “Damages” and “Dexter,” “Lost” rejoins what’s generally considered the Emmys’ most-competitive category for the first time since 2005, along with repeat nominees “House” and “Boston Legal.”

The most buzzed-about oversights include NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” and the final season of HBO’s critically acclaimed “The Wire.” NBC’s “Heroes,” which finished its season early because of the writers strike, was also omitted after landing a mention for its maiden flight.

All five comedy contenders have been previously nominated, though nominee “Curb Your Enthusiasm” wasn’t eligible in 2007. Other than that, it’s “30 Rock” and usual suspects “Entourage,” “The Office” and “Two and a Half Men.”

With Glenn Close of “Damages” and Hunter joining Sally Field in the lead actress race, the category comes armed with an impressive array of Oscar credentials — reflecting a migration of accomplished actresses to television in pursuit of meatier roles. Kyra Sedgwick of TNT’s “The Closer” and Mariska Hargitay — a 2006 honoree for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” — finish off the category.

On the actor side, three nominees hail from freshman programs: Hamm (“Mad Men”), Gabriel Byrne (HBO’s “In Treatment”) and Cranston. “Dexter’s” Michael C. Hall also received his first nomination for that show. “Boston Legal’s” three-time Emmy recipient James Spader and “House’s” Hugh Laurie are again in contention.

Although competition in series categories has clearly taken a toll on perennial leader HBO, the premium service didn’t relinquish its crown as the most-nominated network overall — amassing 85 nominations, followed by ABC’s 76 — thanks primarily to its longstanding dominance in movies and miniseries.

HBO earned movie mentions for the 2000 election chronicle “Recount,” “Bernard and Doris” and the finale of “Extras.” Even without the help of hanging chad, the Time Warner channel has claimed the prize in that arena 13 of the past 15 years, with only ABC’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and Lifetime’s “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” potentially blocking its path this time around.

The pay channel also swept the lead and supporting acting field for movies or miniseries, with Tom Wilkinson pulling double duty as two real-life political figures — former secretary of state James Baker in “Recount” and Benjamin Franklin in “John Adams.”

A degree of repetition has crept into certain categories, with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Amazing Race” riding five-year win streaks in the variety, comedy or music series and reality-competition show categories, respectively.

Still, a number of new programs made their mark in substantial ways. ABC’s whimsical hour “Pushing Daisies” drew 12 nominations, including for star Lee Pace, writing and directing.

This year’s awards also feature a new category for reality host, which adds some of TV’s most popular programs — including Ryan Seacrest of “American Idol,” Tom Bergeron of “Dancing With the Stars” and “Survivor” stalwart Jeff Probst — to the Emmycast. Those names should be especially welcome given that relatively low-rated series occupy so many slots among the scripted series candidates.

In comedy acting, Pace is the only newcomer, opposite “Monk’s” three-time winner Tony Shalhoub, Alec Baldwin and Steve Carell for NBC’s two Thursday comedies, and “Two and a Half Men’s” Charlie Sheen. Similarly, Christina Applegate is the lone actress breakthrough for ABC’s “Samantha Who?,” with “Ugly Betty’s” once-anointed America Ferrera plus Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary-Louise Parker back in the picture.

Turning to the supporting players, Chandra Wilson and Sandra Oh were recognized for “Grey’s Anatomy,” though those noms will be dogged in part by a name that wasn’t there: Katherine Heigl, last year’s winner for the ABC medical soap, who made a rather public display of saying that she opted not to submit herself for consideration in an apparent slap at the show’s writers.

Benefiting from a rule change, Amy Poehler will also compete in the comedy category for “Saturday Night Live,” a show whose cast previously fell into the variety series realm.

Among other networks making notable showings, Showtime — which, despite a wellspring of critical support, earned just 17 nominations in 2007 — marginally expanded its haul to 21, though high-profile bids were mostly limited to “Dexter,” Parker of “Weeds” and “This American Life,” a nominee for nonfiction series.

Underscoring how the push into original series can change fortunes, AMC — with 20 nominations — garnered none two years ago, before scoring in 2007 with the miniseries oater “Broken Trail.” Ratings leader Fox brought up the rear among the major broadcasters by this yardstick, tallying a mere 28 nominations — diminished in part by the absence of “24,” which sat out the season because of the writers strike.

The awards are presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, with 476 nominees in 93 categories. This year’s primary telecast will air Sept. 21 on ABC. The event will be staged for the first time at the Nokia Theater, as will the Creative Arts Awards — mostly devoted to technical areas — on Sept. 13.

Click here for the nominees list.

Want Entertainment News First? Sign up for Variety Alerts and Newsletters!
Post A Comment 0